“They are stronger than me, so I should listen to them” is something I hear often.
But that’s actually only partly true. Because it depends if the advice they give you is pure chess advice or chess improvement advice.
What sounds similar is actually totally different:
- Chess advice → In this position, Bxf6 is the best move because…
- Chess improvement advice → Study Tactics and you’ll get better; improve your sleep; don’t study too many openings…
In this article, I will explain the difference between the two and who you should listen to for chess advice or chess improvement advice.
Let’s start with the simple one. As a rule of thumb, take Chess advice from players stronger than you. As they have a better rating, it is likely that in a given position their instincts are better than yours. Chess advice is given in many different forms:
- Chess commentators
- Game Analysis
- Talking to your opponent after a game
- Studying with a friend that is stronger than you
- Reading Chess books
Still, there are some things you should look out for when receiving chess advice:
- Is this appropriate for my Level?
If the rating difference between the advice giver to the advice receiver is too big, the advice might not be practically useful. Listening to two Grandmasters talk about a position might not be helpful for anyone below 2000. Their knowledge differs so much, that you don’t even have a clue what they are talking about.
This is the same in other fields. I see this in Poker often. Professional players are mostly talking in jargon that is simply alien to some beginners.
Things like “Range”, “25BB Squeeze”, “Overbet due to big range advantage”, and “Nut advantage” are crystal clear to advanced players, but a beginner does not even understand what these freaks are talking about. So if you have the choice, consume chess advice aimed at your level.
- Are they really the expert here?
Especially if the rating difference between you and the advice giver is small, it might be smart to ask if they are really the expert in the given position. Let’s say you are rated 2000 and you studied an in-depth course on French structures. Now you play against a 2100-rated player.
After the game, they try to teach you everything about said structure. Even though they are higher rated, chances are that you actually understand more of this particular position than them. Just smile, listen to their Ted talk, and forget about it right after. The course will be a better place to learn (if it is any good!).
As long as you follow these 2 rules, getting chess advice is good for you. But be aware that getting advice is passive learning. You need to be able to apply those things yourself by solving puzzles and thinking about chess yourself.
Chess improvement advice
This is where things get tricky. Oddly enough, nearly everyone thinks they should give some chess improvement advice. From the random Twitter guy to countless Masters, your buddies, and maybe even your parents: everyone thinks they figured it out.
The reality is: most have no clue what they are talking about. The majority of chess improvement advice on the internet is just plain bad. That’s why you need to be very careful about whom to take advice from. As in any other area, too many cooks spoil the meal. That’s why I encourage people to find 1-3 players, creators, or coaches they really like and to follow their advice.
You can mostly find chess improvement advice from three different kinds of people:
- Chess Coaches
- Chess improvers
- Non-Chess self-improvement advice
The Coaches you want to listen to all have something in common: They achieved what you want to achieve and/or helped students achieve what you want to achieve. This is what I call “proof of concept”.
They are not just making something up, but they have actual proof that their method works in practice. That’s the reason why I train students on different levels and only recommend things I or my students have tried out.
Whenever you get chess improvement advice from a Coach, ask two questions:
- Is this aimed at my level? Grandmasters have other needs than beginners. If a Coach is mainly (or only) teaching very strong players, their advice is not applicable to novices.
I’m not saying they would not be able to help you get better. But getting Carlsen to win 20 more points needs a totally different skill set than helping someone understand the basic Checkmate patterns.
- Do they have proof of concept? The best-case scenario is that the Coach you are listening to has helped many players just like you achieve exactly what you want to achieve. They seem to have a system that actually works and that’s what you care about.
It is nice to see many chess improvers pass the knowledge they pick up along the way. This can be super helpful because they were in your shoes not long ago.
The key here is that you see a clear improvement in their progress. If you do the same thing they do, you will most likely get the same results they get.
So if they are stuck on the same level you are for several years, you might want to listen to someone else. If they knew how to really get better, why didn’t they do it themselves?
Non-Chess self-improvement Advice
This is a hugely underrated category to take improvement advice from. Throughout my career, I learned from Sportsmen, CEOs, Brain Coaches, and Philosophers. To improve your productivity both helps in chess training and to build up a business.
You need to cope with tough losses in any sport, not only chess. A positive mindset helps you in life and chess.
So it would be a huge waste of opportunity if you only tried to learn from Chess players. Pick up a great book or listen to Podcasts and emulate people trying to get the best out of themselves.
They might not play chess at all but will have figured out how to create a sensible training plan, how to improve your sleep, why you should meditate, and much more.
Here are three non-chess books I learned a lot from specifically for my chess career:
- Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book helped me understand the power of habits and how I can create good habits over time. A must-read for anyone trying to improve any skill.
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown. We have limited time and too many things we could do. But when you break it down, only very few things really matter. This book helped me understand how I can filter out what really makes a difference and how I can say no to everything else.
- The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin. A former Chess prodigy turned Martial Arts World Champion explains his method of learning any new skill. Has not only impacted my chess, but any skill I pick up or want to refine.
When You Get Advice
The main aim of that article is to make you pause for a moment whenever you get some advice. First, ask yourself:
- Is this chess advice or chess improvement advice?
Then understand who is giving you that piece of advice and if they are qualified to do so. If they are, listen very carefully. Use what you learned in practice. Keep what suits you, and refine what doesn’t work yet.
Do not feel bad to immediately forget bad advice or advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about. They usually don’t mean it badly.
It also doesn’t make sense to argue with them. You want to increase the contact with people giving sound, qualified advice and have less contact with people giving unsolicited and unfounded advice.
This way you will get closer to where you want to go every single day.